BRATTLEBORO—An eagerly anticipated annual exhibit returns this month to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
Opening on Saturday, Jan. 12, Open Call NXNE 2019: Paint showcases work by 13 artists from New York and New England. This juried exhibit was selected from more than 300 artists who submitted work for consideration by juror Miles McEnery of Miles McEnery Gallery in New York City.
McEnery chose a baker’s dozen of artists for inclusion in the exhibit: Scot Borofsky, Ari Chaves, Jorge Costa, Vita Eruhimovitz, Samuel Fisch, Julia Jensen, Jenna Lash, Shona Macdonald, Douglas Navarra, Susan Osgood, Roger Patrick, Walker Roman, and Carleen Zimbalatti.
Their work spans the gamut from pure abstraction to realism and employs a wide variety of types of paint, including acrylic, oil, ink, gouache, and latex.
“Brattleboro Museum & Art Center’s annual open call for artists’ submissions brought forth a plethora of exceptional responses,” writes Miles McEnery at the BMAC website. “The effort to narrow down this comprehensive and talented group to exhibition size from more than 300 artists was a challenging yet rewarding experience.”
McEnery feels that the works he ultimately selected “explore the pictorial language of space and perception, balance and symmetry, and the themes of mystery and reality.”
Subjective, objective, social
BMAC’s chief curator, Mara Williams, adds that “the selection was guided by McEnery’s observations and thoughts on the originality, technical proficiency, and depth of content of the works submitted. Although the works chosen are diverse in execution and subject matter, they reveal three broad approaches to art making — the Subjective, the Objective, and the Social.”
Even though the selections this year were limited to painted works, McEnery was struck by the diversity of art using this medium.
“Walker Roman’s and Shona Macdonald’s paintings evince a dreamlike quality, yet remain based in reality,” he writes. “Jenna Lash’s and Douglas Navarra’s works manipulate recognizable imagery, using source material such as currency and historic documents to examine pattern, iconography, and historical context.
“Roger Patrick’s bucolic landscapes appear idyllic at first glance, yet emerge peppered with unknown tensions. Ari Chaves’ nostalgic interiors alter our perspective in order to reexamine the domestic and otherwise mundane.
“Julia Jensen’s abstract paintings depart from the landscape yet remain rooted in nature, heeding the philosophy that abstraction cannot be self-referential. Carleen Zimbalatti intricately complex drawings invite the viewer to maneuver through a visual maze of discovery.
“[And] Scot Borofsky, Jorge Costa, Vita Eruhimovitz, Samuel Fisch, and Susan Osgood utilize their chosen media with fervor and dexterity to amplify their own unique voices.”
Yet amid such diversity, McEnery finds a kind of unity among all the artists, and he encourages viewers of this exhibition to consider the pieces on display “both individually and as a part of this unique collective.”
“Partnering these refreshingly diverse yet equally accomplished artists in this exhibit opens a portal to the vast possibilities of content, style, individualism, and artistic skill,” he writes.
BMAC initiated its Open Call juried exhibitions in 2005.
“There were a couple of motivating factors in the decision to have an open call exhibition,” says BMAC Director Danny Lichtenfeld. “Foremost was that such a show gave the museum an opportunity to highlight local and regional artists. And there are many world-class artists working in our local area.”
By and large, BMAC does not consider itself to be a museum specializing in regional art.
“The mission of the museum is to give visitors a chance to see works of national and international repute, which otherwise to see they would have to travel far, such as to Boston or even New York,” Lichtenfeld says.
However, whenever possible, showcasing local artists is part of this equation.
“Visitors who come to the area and visit our museum hope to see a reflection of the regional art scene,” Lichtenfeld notes. “While the many talented local and regional artists who make art in our area have a lot of opportunities to show their work locally in the area’s restaurants and galleries, BMAC’s special niche is to highlight museum-quality art by local artists.”
No matter if the artists are local or have national or even international renown, BMAC shows usually focus on a single person.
“Our open call is a different animal,” Lichtenfeld says. “Here, we hope to represent a regional sensibility by showcasing the local art scene.”
A juried show became an ideal way to gather significant local artists who might have escaped BMAC’s attention as the museum considered what to present to its public.
“The open call shows began shortly before I joined the museum, when the then-powers-that-be sent out the first call for submissions by regional artists,” Lichtenfeld continues. “It became a nice way to cast the net to discover local artists not yet on our radar.”
But what constitutes the “local” changed a from year to year.
’In the zone’
The first Open Call show was subtitled “in the zone.”
“What was considered then as ‘in the zone’ was any artist working within a 75-mile radius of Brattleboro,” Lichtenfeld says.
That ultimately proved to be too restrictive.
“After two or three years when the second show was contemplated — at first these were not annual exhibitions — the zone was extended to 100 miles,” Lichtenfeld said. “A few years ago, BMAC decided that since the shows were so well received to make the Open Call exhibition an annual event. And, to broaden the scope and introduce more new artists to the museum, the zone now included artists working in all of New England and New York state.”
Unlike many juried open calls, Open Call has no theme. However, submissions are delimited by the media in which the artists work.
“Last year, the media was work-on-paper, which included photography,” says Lichtenfeld. “This year, as the title of the show indicates, the call was for artists working in paint.”
Yet, even with this restriction, the submissions revealed great diversity.
“Of the over 300 submissions, we had works in oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and even ink paint,” Lichtenfeld says. “They were painted on everything from canvas and paper to glass and board.”
Lichtenfeld points out that from the very beginning a key feature of the BMAC’s Open Call shows was to solicit someone outside the museum to jury each show.
“This proved to be a nice way of getting beyond the usual critical eyes of the museums board and staff to consider what to present at the museum,” he said.
For its jurors, BMAC has chosen museum curators, critics, and gallery owners.
“We wanted our prospective juror to be someone who after seeing the submitted work would be in a position to benefit all the applicants in ways beyond this mere exhibition,” Lichtenfeld says. “Our juror this year was a gallery owner. BMAC has a longstanding relationship with numerous galleries from which we borrow work for our exhibitions, of which Miles McEnery Gallery in New York City is one.”
Miles McEnery’s task was daunting.
Over 1,000 works to review
“This year we have had more submissions than we ever have, and since each artist could submit up to four different works, that made over 1,000 paintings that needed to be reviewed,” Lichtenfeld says.
After these works were then digitally submitted to McEnery, the museum staff went to New York to help explain the pieces if any questions arose. Ultimately, McEnery limited the submissions to 13 artists, but since they could exhibit more than one piece, BMAC ended up with 40 paintings in “Open Call NXNE 2019: Paint.”
This year, as in all years past, the juried selection was blind.
“Reviewing the work, neither Miles nor anyone at the museum knew who submitted the art,” Lichtenfeld explains. “Nonetheless, out of 300 submission three Brattleboro artists are included in the this year’s Open Call: Julia Jensen, Scot Borofsky, and Susan Osgood.
“While I suppose a contributing factor may be more artists from the local surroundings have heard about the Open Call and submit, I do think that the remarkably disproportionate percentage of Brattleboro artists blindly chosen for this exhibition definitely reflects the large amount of museum quality work being created in our town.”